In our last study, we were looking at the vision of Ezekiel which was given for his second prophetic task. After he was taken in spirit to Jerusalem and to the temple complex, he was shown examples of how the Israelites have been provoking God to anger. Although God had been patient with his people for hundreds of years, now he was going to bring calamity on his people without pity.
In this study we see how God looks for those who realise what sin is and who mourn for its existence.
Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, ‘Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgement on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.’ And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.
Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.’
As I listened, he said to the others, ‘Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
Then he said to them, ‘Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!’ So they went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell face down, crying out, ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?’
He answered me, ‘The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.” So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.’
Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, ‘I have done as you commanded.’
Those who have been following these studies will know, by now, that I would emphasise that this serious judgement came after hundreds of years of patience from out God. Our God is not quick to anger, and he will not squash you like a bug for your first sin. Although, from the attitude of some preachers, that is what you find yourself feeling about God and about your own insignificance.
But – and this is really a very important ‘but’ – there is not one of us who should ever be considered insignificant or that should consider ourselves insignificant.
Why? This one’s easy! Because Jesus died for each and every one of us. From the sweetest babe to the vilest of sinners, all were loved enough by Jesus for him to go to the death on the cross. It doesn’t make any difference what you have done, what others think of you, or even what you think of yourself. Jesus died for you. So you are significant.
There is another easy answer to this question, and it is shown in today’s text. We are all to be judged. Every one of us. Nobody will be spared this. Some will be marked to be saved, the rest will be destroyed.
What was the requirement to be marked in this vision of Ezekiel? Even this is quite a simple answer: to have an understanding of what sin is, and to grieve and mourn over it. It was not even a requirement to know every bit of the law and all the intricacies (I mention this, because some Christians are so quick to condemn others to hell for an interpretation about a minor scripture that is mildly different to their own. I don’t know where such an attitude comes from – because it seems to me that such pride and arrogance, together with the sin of judging another in the place of Jesus, is evidence enough that the accuser (hey-who else has this title in the scriptures?!!) is in need of spiritual cleansing, if not salvation). They only had to realise that these were foreign practices and idolatry that were happening in Jerusalem, and to grieve over this fact.
So, when you realise that something is sin, how do you feel about it? And what do you do about it?
Brothers and sisters, many read this and then go out with downward cast eyes, grieving about sin in the world, criticising it in themselves and on others. When you focus only on sin, then there is one inevitable outcome: the imposition of legalism on yourself and others. However, in my experience, people are far more willing to place these chains of bondage on others than they are upon themselves. Another thing is inevitable: criticising leads to judging. Then there is the ‘telling the truth in love’ (which are words from Paul’s letters that are read out of context and so used for the opposite purpose to that intended by Paul).
Listen. To be grieved in your heart and soul by sin that you see is a good reaction. There is nothing wrong with this. But if your focus is then only on sin, your life is wrong! One hundred percent wrong! You need to turn around completely! Your focus should be on the Lord and what he has done for you.
If you belong to the Lord, then He has already dealt with your sin. Yes, I know that sometimes it does not feel like it – especially when we have done that certain thing yet again that we know we ought not to do. But read the letters of Paul, and especially in Romans. Here was a man with an incredible ministry, being an apostle and having planted and encouraged many churches. Yet he saw and recognised the sin in his own life. And he mourned over it. There is a whole chapter about this.
But never stop there – never let that be the end of the reading. Paul moves on from mourning into praise and worship – because, although he knows that there are still things that are imperfect about his behaviour, yet he knows that it is covered over because he is clothed in the pure white garments of the righteousness of Christ. Hallelujah!!
If you want to ‘speak the truth in love’ to one another – this is the truth that you are supposed to be speaking!! That verse is NOT an excuse to judge someone or to ‘put them right’ on something or other. That job is not yours!
Your job is to be like Jesus, to allow his love and beauty pour out from your life. And you do that by placing yourself lower than others and serving them.
Let me put that point another way. When you are among other Christians, you are with those who are members of the family of the Most High god. These are adopted gladly by the Father in heaven. They have been clothed in the garments of pure white, that is the righteousness of Christ. So it doesn’t matter what you think or feel about any of the Christians that you know, this is how god sees them, and he does not give you permission to see them in any other way.
Not only that, we are asked to look in the mirror and judge that person there. And if that does not place you lower than the royal family that all Christians belong to, and so make you feel that you are less than all others, there is something weird… Because Jesus made himself a servant, demonstrating this by washing the disciples’ feet. And all those words about who shall be first will be last, and the last will be first. The other one about being a servant of all? You do know these verses, right?
So, if you are the servant of all, should a servant criticise his or her master?
Do you begin to understand?
So yes, it should be the normal reaction to grieve over sin. It should even inspire us to send letters to TV companies and politicians when we are grieved in spirit by something that should not be displayed on our television screens, or on the stage in the theatre, and so on… Christians should be the first to speak out, as a whole body, when corrupt politicians award themselves huge wage rises while condemning everyone else to exceedingly low wage rises or none at all. While leaders increase in wealth, and more of the poor starve and lose their homes (and of course, this is the true sin of Sodom, as defined later in the book of the prophet Ezekiel).
Grieving over sin should help you become salt and light in the world.
And hey – if you are marked for salvation, is this not a reason to rejoice?
Sorrow over sin should accompany joy in salvation and worship of our god. You save a world by pointing out the beauty of our Lord and the life of true love, not by showing them sin.
And you save no-one by calling them a sinner. Only by showing them Jesus.